Towards the end of an audience with the Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, when we thanked him for his presence and support during the Genfest, he said, “I have an assignment for you.” Then he handed us a book entitled “Gaudete et Exsultate” (Rejoice and Be Glad).
It was the Pope’s apostolic exhortation signed last March 19, 2018, on the feast of Saint Joseph. In this document, he re-echoes the call to holiness in modern times emphasizing that God “wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence.” “Read and study it,” the Nuncio said.
Each in his or her own way In the document, Pope Francis strongly said that everyone is called to holiness, each in his or her own way, pointing out that “to be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or religious.” Moreover, he said, “We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.”
If all of us are called to holiness, how then can we be holy in our different states of life and in our different roles in society? Pope Francis answers this by saying, “Are you called to the consecrated life? Be holy by living out your commitment with joy.
Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by laboring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus.
Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain.” Chiara Lubich had said something similar to this when she said, “It is my conviction that doing God’s will is the modern way to become a saint. You do not need to go to a convent or consecrate yourself to God or become a priest. No, it suffices to do what God wants of you.”
The Pope also said that holiness “will grow through small gestures.” An example: “A woman goes shopping, she meets a neighbor and they begin to speak, and the gossip starts. But she says in her heart: ‘No I will not speak badly of anyone.’ This is a step forward to holiness. Later, at home, one of her children wants to talk to her about his hopes and dreams, and even though she is tired, she sits down and listens with patience and love…”
Pope Francis is clearly explaining to us that through simple acts of love in our ordinary daily lives, we can grow to be how God calls us to be – to be holy. As the Pope said, “Every minute of our lives can be a step along the path to grow in holiness.”
What is holiness? Pope Francis reflected on the Beatitudes to answer this question. He said that holiness is “being poor of heart”, “reacting with meekness and humility”, “knowing how to mourn with others”, “hungering and thirsting for righteousness”, “seeing and acting with mercy”, “keeping a heart free of all that tarnishes love”, “sowing peace all around us”, and “accepting the daily path of the Gospel even though it may cause us problems”.
Continuing to reflect on the Beatitudes, the Pope said, “Jesus expands on the Beatitude that calls the merciful blessed. If we seek the holiness pleasing in God’s eyes, this text offers us one clear criterion on which we will be judged: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me’” (Mt 25:35-36).
This is very similar to what Chiara Lubich once said, “Life is a trial and at the end it, too, has to pass an exam; but the infinite love of God has already told humanity what the questions will be: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…’ The works of mercy will be the subject of the exam, those works in which God sees if you truly love him, having served him in your brothers and sisters.” In this apostolic exhortation Pope Francis referred to it as “the great criterion.” Chiara Lubich called it “the final exam.”
To be saints together
“Growth in holiness is a journey in community, side by side with others,” Pope Francis affirmed, speaking of communitarian holiness. Explaining this he said, “A community that cherishes the little details of life, whose members care for one another and create an open and evangelizing environment, is a place where the risen Lord is present, sanctifying it in accordance with the Father’s plan.”
It is as if he were saying to us that if the members of a community have great love for one another, Jesus will be in their midst. He goes on to say, “…our path to holiness can only make us identify all the more with Jesus’ prayer ‘that all may be one, even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you’ (Jn 17:21).”
Pope Francis also took the opportunity of making the faithful aware of some dangers that challenge living a life of holiness today. For example, he warned that “Christians too can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the Internet and the various forums of digital communication.”
Through this apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis wants to highlight that holiness is not an outdated concept. He also encourages everyone to respond to God’s call to holiness each in his or her own way and together with others.